Farwell Brown, AHS founder

Farwell Tilden Brown
(Read a Tribute at bottom of page)

Farwell Tilden Brown, founder of Ames Historical Society, is a third generation Ames resident, descended from the two prominent early families reflected in his name. He has devoted his retirement years to gathering and assembling the history of his community. His lifetime collection of photographs has been deposited with the Ames Public Library (the Farwell T. Brown Photographic Archive), and many of his personal papers reside in the archives of the Ames Historical Society.  View photos of Farwell from his own photo archive. In 1986, Mr. Brown was proclaimed "Official Historian for the City of Ames," and in 1990 he received the Ames Public Library's "Trustee Award" for significant contributions to the library and community. The Library's new auditorium was dedicated in his honor on March 1, 1998

A celebration of Farwell's life entitled Ames Reads (and Remembers) Farwell Brown: Stories from Ames History was held on the weekend of what would have been his 100th birthday. Selected stories from his three books were read by persons related to the stories by their current function in Ames life. This program was taped by Ames Government Access Channel 12 and is available here and on DVD. Who are the readers? View the publicity flyer.
Ames in Word and Picture - click to enlarge
Mr. Brown has published four books and an untold number of newspaper articles on the history of Ames. His first book, Ames, the Early Years in Word and Picture (1993), was a collection of fifty-five stories that highlight the community and its people with an emphasis on the first seventy-five years of the town's life.  In 1999 he published Ames in Word and Picture, Book Two: Further Tales and Personal Memories, with forty-nine additional articles. The pictorial album Ames, Iowa, A Ride Through Town on the "Dinkey," in two editions (most recently 2001), remains a popular souvenir volume. His most recent work (2003) is: Ames in Word and Picture, Book Three: Tales from Two Old-timers, in which he includes the writings of his grandfather, Kendrick Wade Brown, in addition to eighteen more stories of his own.
Farwell Brown was born in Ames on December 17, 1910.  He graduated from Ames High School in 1929 and from Iowa State University in 1934 with a major in agricultural economics.

In 1940, Farwell married Ruth Mosher in Urbana, Illinois.  They have four children.  Mr. Brown worked for many years as a real estate appraiser for the Iowa Department of Transportation.  He retired in 1976 during the U.S. Bicentennial celebration, just in time to begin in earnest his second career as a lecturer and writer of local history. View photos of Farwell's 97th birthday celebration at Northcrest.

click to enlarge
Pictured are the first officers of the Ames Heritage Association: (left to right) Rodney Fox, secretary; Terry Adams, vice-president; and Farwell Brown, president. The three were photographed as they sat in Brown's second-floor office in the building on the southwest corner of Main Street and Kellogg Avenue. They are discussing plans for the moving, restoration, and preservation of the Hoggatt School, the first schoolhouse in Ames and the Heritage Association's first project. This photo was taken at the same time as the photo which appeared on the first page of the Ames Tribune on January 14, 1981.

Inevitably, the "Official Historian for the City of Ames" himself became part of our historical record on September 1 of 2010. To say that he left an invaluable legacy for our community and beyond would be a gross understatement.  As Collections Curator for the organization he founded, I had the privilege of working with him since 2001 when I came on board.  At that time, the bulk of his research papers and collections of archival records and artifacts were being transferred from the Ames Public Library, his working headquarters, to the Ames Historical Society.  His material occupied over 30 linear feet of shelving in our Archives.  We are still busy processing these riches nearly a decade later.

Farwell was incredibly helpful from day one, when I first called him to solicit assistance in identifying some 19th century photos.  My father, Con Wendell, was the same age as Farwell, and, in fact, served on his "Ames Historiographers Committee" as did Mary Martin Carr who is with us today as a reader.  Farwell and I hit it off famously, as we were both native sons of Ames whose families settled here after the Civil War.  Although three decades apart in age, we were both equally passionate about preserving and sharing local history.  As I got to know Farwell better, I felt comfortable in calling him at almost any time of day to tap his deep knowledge and experience. He was always most gracious in responding to my requests.  I did, however, soon learn to avoid his daily naptime.  With his phenomenal memory, Farwell was able, up until his final years, to either answer my inquiries directly or at least recommend other sources that could.  Would that I had that quality of memory at a fraction of his age.

Besides being my "numero uno" information source, he was also an important mentor in my life.  His well-researched and footnoted articles served as models and inspiration.  I abided by his advice: "Perfection cannot be attained, but that's no reason to stop trying."  In pursuit of accuracy he would double and triple check names and dates, knowing that even primary sources - including newspapers and human memories - may be fallible at times.  He compared realty - where it's "location, location, location," to history - where it's "accuracy, accuracy, accuracy."  "Be precise," he always said.  It's not "the Sheldon-Munn Hotel is located at the corner of Main and Kellogg," but, "at the northwest corner of Main Street and Kellogg Avenue."

Throughout our countless conversations, his subtle humor persistently shone through. On the occasion of his and Ruth's 70th wedding anniversary, I asked, "So, how many guests attended the ceremony, Farwell?"  He quickly replied, "About 300."  But I could tell from his spreading grin that this figure was grossly inflated, especially since the ceremony took place not in Ames, but in Urbana-Champaign where few knew him.

Farwell left a huge pair of shoes to fill.  It's the mission of the Ames Historical Society to continue his legacy by identifying, recording, collecting, preserving and sharing our community's history.  Our challenge is not only to recapture the distant past but to document as well the contemporary era we live in, thus providing a balanced and accurate historical record of city government, schools, businesses, organizations, residents, transportation, and events and celebrations of our fair city.  We stand not only on the shoulders of Farwell, but others as well - K.W. Brown, A.B. Maxwell, Gladys Meads, Letha Davidson, George Scheetz and Ellen Landon, to name just a few. Copious thanks, Farwell, for your substantial legacy of writings, presentations, collections, preservation activities, and not the least - leadership and inspiration!  Long may you be remembered.

Dennis Wendell, Collections Curator